15 years ago we started building the International Space Station.
Over 13 continuous years of human occupation it has had more than 200 people aboard, nearly 90 residents as well as numerous ants, spiders, worms, jellyfish and rodents. It has witnessed over 82,000 sunrises and sunsets and has documented everything from volcanic eruptions and super storms to 9/11.
There is a strong argued to say that it is our most impressive engineering feat ever. However, most people can probably only name one person to have been aboard, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Why is this?
To some people, Space is the antithesis of interesting; the technology is incomprehensibly irrelevant and the money spent on it vulgar when you look at the extreme poverty millions of people continue to live in across the world today.
Whilst governments look to encourage private industry to invest as they cut their own spending, what has been missing until recently is what every good story needs – great characters.
The first media-shifting character needs little introductionCommander Chris Hadfield.
Bowie, blogs and Instagram, need I say any more? The human side of astonautical life in space was a joy to follow as Hadfield shared his personal experience of living in space with the world through Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube.
For nearly 6 months and with the help of his son back in Canada, Hadfield made space interesting to the public, mostly through social media. The “most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth” according to Forbes, his frequent updates received press attention unlike any other astronaut had received since the Apollo missions and by the time he released the first music video ever shot in space he was well on his way to becoming a household name.
Every space agency will hopefully be following suit in encouraging more astronauts to connect with the social media audience.
The second is Felix Baurmanger, the man who fell from space[/was pushed by Red Bull].
Felix’s achievement was truly amazing and the bravery he showed was extraordinary. His hunger to pioneer is inspirational and his determination to see the project through was best encapsulated in this documentary. This is what should be shown in secondary schools to inspire science and exploration.
The third character is of course, NASA’s tweeting Mars explorer, Curiosity.
The 6-wheeled Martian rover has lived up to its name and its daily updates of life on the red planet has been a social networking phenomenon. Curiosity has allowed NASA to reach a new generation of space geeks on a much more personal level.
As we continue to let our robotic minions do the dirty work over the next decade or so, sharing what is discovered and the robot’s stories is key to getting the public to understand what they’re funding – and if this is coming from a robot that can share both mind boggling red vistas and selfies alike, well that’s all the more interesting.
When the time comes for humans to explore the void beyond Earth’s orbit once again, we will look to the characters we can empathise with, aspire to become and wish for their safe return.
NASA, ESA and Russia, along with China and India and whoever else joins in the fun will need to make sure the public feels part of astronaut’s experiences and get to know the people in the suits before, during and after the missions until their names are etched into the public consciousness along with Gagarin, Aldrin, Armstrong, Columbus and Cook before them.